Post Reply chapter 9: third wheel
Posted 12/1/08
TIME BEGAN TO TRIP ALONG MUCH MORE QUICKLY than before.
School, work, and Jacob—though not necessarily in that order—created a neat
and effortless pattern to follow. And Charlie got his wish: I wasn't miserable
anymore. Of course, I couldn't fool myself completely. When I stopped to take
stock of my life, which I tried not to do too often, I couldn't ignore the
implications of my behavior.
I was like a lost moon—my planet destroyed in some cataclysmic, disaster-movie
scenario of desolation—that continued, nevertheless, to circle in a tight little orbit
around the empty space left behind, ignoring the laws of gravity.
I was getting better with my bike, which meant fewer bandages to worry Charlie.
But it also meant that the voice in my head began to fade, until I heard it no more.
Quietly, I panicked. I threw myself into the search for the meadow with slightly
frenzied intensity. I racked my brain for other adrenaline-producing activities.
I didn't keep track of the days :hat passed—there was no reason, as I tried to live
as much in the present as possible, no past fading, no future impending. So I was
surprised by the date when Jacob brought it up on one of our homework days. He
was waiting when I pulled up in front of his house.
"Happy Valentine's Day," Jacob said, smiling, but ducking his head as he greeted
me.
He held out a small, pink box, balancing it on his palm. Conversation hearts.
"Well, I feel like a schmuck," I mumbled. "Is today Valentine's Day?"
Jacob shook his head with mock sadness. "You can be so out of it sometimes.
Yes, it is the fourteenth day of February. So are you going to be my Valentine?
Since you didn't get me a fifty-cent box of candy, it's the least you can do."
I started to feel uncomfortable. The words were teasing, but only on the surface.
"What exactly does that entail?" I hedged.
"The usual—slave for life, that kind of thing."
"Oh, well, if that's all…" I took the candy. But I was trying to think of some way
to make the boundaries clear. Again. They seemed to get blurred a lot with Jacob.
"So, what are we doing tomorrow? Hiking, or the ER?"
"Hiking," I decided. "You're not the only one who can be obsessive. I'm starting
to think I imagined that place…" I frowned into space.
"We'll find it," he assured me. "Bikes Friday?" he offered.
I saw a chance and took it without taking time to think it through.
"I'm going to a movie Friday. I've been promising my cafeteria crowd that I
would go out forever." Mike would be pleased.
But Jacob's face fell. I caught the expression in his dark eyes before he dropped
them to look at the ground.
"You'll come too, right?" I added quickly. "Or will it be too much of a drag with a
bunch of boring seniors?" So much for my chance to put some distance between
us. I couldn't stand hurting Jacob; we seemed to be connected in an odd way, and
his pain set off little stabs of my own. Also, the idea of having his company for
the ordeal—I had promised Mike, but really didn't feel any enthusiasm at the
thought of following through—was just too tempting.
"You'd like me to come, with your friends there?"
"Yes," I admitted honestly, knowing as I continued that I was probably shooting
myself in the foot with my words. "I'll have a lot more fun if you're there. Bring
Quil, and we'll make it a party."
"Quil's gonna freak. Senior girls." He chortled and rolled his eyes. I didn't
mention Embry, and neither did he. I laughed, too. "I'll try to get hin a good
selection."
I broached the subject with Mike in English.
"Hey, Mike," I said when class was over. "Are you free Friday night?"
He looked up, his blue eyes instantly hopeful. "Yeah, I am. You want to go out?"
I worded my reply carefully. "I was thinking about getting a group"—I
emphasized the word—"together to go see Crosshairs." I'd done my homework
this time—even reading the movie spoilers to be sure I wouldn't be caught off
guard. This movie was supposed to be a bloodbath from start to finish. I wasn't so
recovered that I could stand to sit through a romance. "Does that sound like fun?"
"Sure," he agreed, visibly less eager.
"Cool."
After a second, he perked back up to near his former excitement level. "How
about we get Angela and Ben? Or Eric and Katie?"
He was determined to make this some kind of double date, apparently.
"How about both?" I suggested "And Jessica, too, of course. And Tyler and
Conner, and maybe Lauren," I tacked on grudgingly. I had promised Quil variety.
"Okay," Mike muttered, foiled.
"And," I continued, "I've got a couple of friends from La Push I'm inviting. So it
sounds like we'll need your Suburban if everyone comes."
Mike's eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"These are the friends you spend all your time studying with now?"
"Yep, the very ones," I answered cheerfully. "Though you could look at it as
tutoring—they're only sophomores."
"Oh," Mike said, surprised. After a second of thought, he smiled.
In the end, though, the Suburban wasn't necessary.
Jessica and Lauren claimed to be busy as soon as Mike let it slip that I was
involved in the planning. Eric and Katie already had plans—it was their threeweek
anniversary or something. Lauren got to Tyler and Conner before Mike
could, so those two were also busy. Even Quil was out—grounded for fighting at
school. In the end, only Angela and Ben, and, of course Jacob, were able to go.
The diminished numbers didn't dampen Mike's anticipation, though. It was all he
could talk about Friday.
"Are you sure you don't want to see Tomorrow and Forever instead?" he asked at
lunch, naming the current romantic comedy that was ruling the box office.
"Rotten Tomatoes gave it a better review."
"I want to see Crosshairs" I insisted. "I'm in the mood for action. Bring on the
blood and guts!"
"Okay." Mike turned away, but not before I saw his maybe-she's-crazy-after-all
expression.
When I got home from school, a very familiar car was parked in front of my
house. Jacob was leaning against the hood, a huge grin lighting up his face.
"No way!" I shouted as I jumped out of the truck. "You're done! I can't believe it!
You finished the Rabbit!"
He beamed. "Just last night. This is the maiden voyage."
"Incredible." I held my hand up for a high five.
He smacked his hand against mine, but left it there, twisting his fingers through
mine. "So do I get to drive tonight?"
"Definitely," I said, and then I sighed.
"What's wrong?"
"I'm giving up—I can't top this one. So you win. You're oldest."
He shrugged, unsurprised by my capitulation. "Of course I am."
Mike's Suburban chugged around the corner. I pulled my hand out of Jacob's, and
he nude a face that I wasn't meant to see.
"I remember this guy," he said in a low voice as Mike parked across the street.
"The one who thought you were his girlfriend. Is he still confused?"
I raised one eyebrow. "Some people are hard to discourage."
"Then again," Jacob said thoughtfully, "sometimes persistence pays off."
"Most of the time it's just annoying, though."
Mike got out of his car and crossed the road.
"Hey, Bella," he greeted me, and then his eyes turned wary as he looked up at
Jacob. I glanced briefly at Jacob, too, trying to be objective. He really didn't look
like a sophomore at all. He was just so big—Mike's head barely cleared Jacob's
shoulder; I didn't even want to think where I measured next to him—and then his
face was older-looking than it used to be, even a month ago.
"Hey, Mike! Do you remember Jacob Black?"
"Not really." Mike held out his hand.
"Old family friend," Jacob introduced himself, shaking hands. They locked hands
with more force than necessary. When their grip broke, Mike flexed his fingers.
I heard the phone ringing from the kitchen.
"I'd better get that—it might be Charlie," I told them, and dashed inside.
It was Ben. Angela was sick with the stomach flu, and he didn't feel like coming
without her. He apologized for bailing on us.
I walked slowly back to the waiting boys, shaking my head. I really hoped
Angela would feel better soon, but I had to admit that I was selfishly upset by this
development. Just the three of us, Mike and Jacob and me, together for the
evening—this had worked out brilliantly, I thought with grim sarcasm.
It didn't seem like Jake and Mike had made any progress towards friendship in
my absence. They were several yards apart, facing away from each other as they
waited for me; Mike's expression was sullen, though Jacob's was cheerful as
always.
"Ang is sick," I told them glumly. "She and Ben aren't coming."
"I guess the flu is making another round. Austin and Conner were out today, too.
Maybe we should do this another time," Mike suggested.
Before I could agree, Jacob spoke.
"I'm still up for it. But if you'd rather to stay behind, Mike—"
"No, I'm coming," Mike interrupted. "I was just thinking of Angela and Ben.
Let's go." He started toward his Suburban.
"Hey, do you mind if Jacob drives?" I asked. "I told him he could—he just
finished his car. He built it from scratch, all by himself," I bragged, proud as a
PTA mom with a student on the principal's list.
"Fine," Mike snapped.
"All right, then," Jacob said, as if that settled everything. He seemed more
comfortable than anyone else.
Mike climbed in the backseat of the Rabbit with a disgusted expression.
Jacob was his normal sunny self, chattering away until I'd all but forgotten Mike
sulking silently in the back.
And then Mike changed his strategy. He leaned forward, resting his chin on the
shoulder of my seat; his cheek almost touched mine. I shifted away, turning my
back toward the window.
"Doesn't the radio work in this thing?" Mike asked with a hint of petulance,
interrupting Jacob mid-sentence.
"Yes," Jacob answered. "But Bella doesn't like music."
I stared at Jacob, surprised. I'd never told him that.
"Bella?" Mike asked, annoyed.
"He's right," I mumbled, still looking at Jacob's serene profile.
"How can you not like music?" Mike demanded.
I shrugged. "I don't know. It just irritates me."
"Hmph." Mike leaned away.
When we got to the theater, Jacob handed me a ten-dollar bill.
"What's this?" I objected.
"I'm not old enough to get into this one," he reminded me.
I laughed out loud. "So much for relative ages. Is Billy going to kill me if I sneak
you in?"
"No. I told him you were planning to corrupt my youthful innocence."
I snickered, and Mike quickened his pace to keep up with us.
I almost wished that Mike had decided to bow out. He was still sullen—not much
of an addition to the party. But I didn't want to end up on a date alone with Jacob,
either. That wouldn't help anything.
The movie was exactly what it professed to be. In just the opening credits, four
people got blown up and one got beheaded. The girl in front of me put her hands
over her eyes and turned her face into her date's chest. He patted her shoulder,
and winced occasionally, too. Mike didn't look like he was watching. His face
was stiff as he glared toward the fringe of curtain above the screen.
I settled in to endure the two hours, watching the colors and the movement on the
screen rather than seeing the shapes of people and cars and houses. But then
Jacob started sniggering.
"What?" I whispered.
"Oh, c'mon!" he hissed back. "The blood squirted twenty feet out of that guy.
How fake can you get?"
He chuckled again, as a flagpole speared another man into a concrete wall.
After that, I really watched the show, laughing with him as the mayhem got more
and more ridiculous. How was I ever going to fight the blurring lines in our
relationship when I enjoyed being with him so much?
Both Jacob and Mike had claimed the armrests on either side of me. Both of their
hands rested lightly, palms up, in an unnatural looking position. Like steel bear
traps, open and ready. Jacob was in the habit of taking my hand whenever the
opportunity presented itself, but here in the darkened movie theater, with Mike
watching, it would have a different significance—and I was sure he knew that. I
couldn't believe that Mike was thinking the same thing, but his hand was placed
exactly like Jacob's.
I folded my arms tightly across my chest and hoped that both their hands fell
asleep.
Mike gave up first. About halfway through the movie, he pulled his arm back,
and leaned forward to put his head in his hands. At first I thought he was reacting
to something on the screen, but then he moaned.
"Mike, are you okay?" I whispered.
The couple in front of us turned to look at him as he groaned again.
I could see the sheen of sweat across his face in the light from the screen.
Mike groaned again, and bolted for the door. I got up to follow him, and Jacob
copied me immediately.
"No, stay," I whispered. "I'll make sure he's okay."
Jacob came with me anyway.
"You don't have to come. Get your eight bucks worth of carnage," I insisted as
we walked up the aisle.
"That's okay. You sure can pick them, Bella. This movie really sucks." His voice
rose from a whisper to its normal pitch as we walked out of the theater.
There was no sign of Mike in the hallway, and I was glad then that Jacob had
come with me—he ducked into the men's bathroom to check for him there.
Jacob was back in a few seconds.
"Oh, he's in there, all right," he said, rolling his eyes. "What a marshmallow. You
should hold out for someone with a stronger stomach. Someone who laughs at the
gore that makes weaker men vomit."
"I'll keep my eyes open for someone like that."
We were all alone in the hallway. Both theaters were halfway through the movie,
and it was deserted—quiet enough for us to hear the popcorn popping at the
concession counter in the lobby.
Jacob went to sit on the velveteen-upholstered bench against the wall, patting the
space beside him.
"He sounded like he was going to be in there for a while," he said, stretching his
long legs out in front of him as he settled in to wait.
I joined him with a sigh. He looked like he was thinking about blurring more
lines. Sure enough, as soon as I sat down, he shifted over to put his arm around
my shoulders.
"Jake," I protested, leaning away. He dropped his arm, not looking bothered at all
by the minor rejection. He reached out and took my hand firmly, wrapping his
other hand around my wrist when I tried to pull away again. Where did he get the
confidence from?
"Now, just hold on a minute, Bella," he said in a calm voice. "Tell me something."
I grimaced. I didn't want to do this. Not just not now, but not ever. There was
nothing lett in my life at this point that was more important than Jacob Black. But
he seemed determined to ruin everything.
"What?" I muttered sourly.
"You like me, right?"
"You know I do."
"Better than that joker puking his guts out in there?" He gestured toward the
bathroom door.
"Yes," I sighed.
"Better than any of the other guys you know?" He was calm, serene—as if my
answer didn't matter, or he already knew what it was.
"Better than the girls, too," I pointed out.
"But that's all," he said, and it wasn't a question.
It was hard to answer, to say the word. Would he get hurt and avoid me? How
would I stand that?
"Yes," I whispered.
He grinned down at me. "That's okay, you know. As long as you like me the best.
And you think I'm good-looking—sort of. I'm prepared to be annoyingly
persistent."
"I'm not going to change," I said, and though I tried to keep my voice normal, I
could hear the sadness in it.
His face was thoughtful, no longer teasing. "It's still the other one, isn't it?"
I cringed. Funny how he seemed to know not to say the name—just like before in
the car with the music. He picked up on so much about me that I never said.
"You don't have to talk about it," he told me.
I nodded, grateful.
"But don't get mad at me for hanging around, okay?" Jacob patted the back of my
hand. "Because I'm not giving up. I've got loads of time."
I sighed. "You shouldn't waste it on me," I said, though I wanted him to.
Especially if he was willing to accept me the way I was—damaged goods, as is.
"It's what I want to do, as long as you still like to be with me."
"I can't imagine how I could not like being with you," I told him honestly.
Jacob beamed. "I can live with that."
"Just don't expect more," I warned him, trying to pull my hand away. He held
onto it obstinately.
"This doesn't really bother you, does it?" he demanded, squeezing my fingers.
"No," I sighed. Truthfully, it felt nice. His hand was so much warmer than mine; I
always felt too cold these days.
"And you don't care what he thinks." Jacob jerked his thumb toward the
bathroom.
"I guess not."
"So what's the problem?"
"The problem," I said, "is, that it means something different to me than it does to
you."
"Well." He tightened his hand around mine "That's my problem, isn't it?"
"Fine," I grumbled. "Don't forget it, though."
"I won't. The pin's out of the grenade for me, now, eh?" He poked me in the ribs.
I rolled my eyes. I guess if he felt like making a joke out of it, he was entitled.
He chuckled quietly for a minute while his pinky finger absently traced designs
against the side of my hand.
"That's a funny scar you've got there," he suddenly said, twisting my hand to
examine it. "How did that happen?"
The index finger of his free hand followed the line of the long silvery crescent
that was barely visible against my pale skin.
I scowled. "Do you honestly expect me to remember where all my scars come
from?"
I waited for the memory to hit—to open the gaping hole. But, as it so often did,
Jacob's presence kept me whole.
"It's cold," he murmured, pressing lightly against the place where James had cut
me with his teeth.
And then Mike stumbled out of the bathroom, his face ashen and covered in
sweat. He looked horrible.
"Oh, Mike," I gasped.
"Do you mind leaving early?" he whispered.
"No, of course not." I pulled my hand free and went to help Mike walk. He
looked unsteady.
"Movie too much for you?" Jacob asked heartlessly.
Mike's glare was malevolent. "I didn't actually see any of it," he mumbled. "I was
nauseated before the lights went down."
"Why didn't you say something?" I scolded as we staggered toward the exit.
"I was hoping it would pass," he said.
"Just a sec," Jacob said as we reached the door. He walked quickly back to the
concession stand.
"Could I have an empty popcorn bucket?" he asked the salesgirl. She looked at
Mike once, and then thrust a bucket at Jacob.
"Get him outside, please," she begged. She was obviously the one who would
have to clean the floor.
I towed Mike out into the cool, wet air. He inhaled deeply. Jacob was right
behind us. He helped me get Mike into the back of the car, and handed him the
bucket with a serious gaze.
"Please," was all Jacob said.
We rolled down the windows, letting the icy night air blow through the car,
hoping it would help Mike. I curled my arms around my legs to keep warm.
"Cold, again?" Jacob asked, putting his arm around me before I could answer.
"You're not?"
He shook his head.
"You must have a fever or something," I grumbled. It was freezing. I touched my
fingers to his forehead, and his head was hot.
"Whoa, Jake—you're burning up!"
"I feel fine." He shrugged. "Fit as a fiddle."
I frowned and touched his head again. His skin blazed under my fingers.
"Your hands are like ice," he complained.
"Maybe it's me," I allowed.
Mike groaned in the backseat, and threw up in the bucket. I grimaced, hoping my
own stomach could stand the sound and smell. Jacob checked anxiously over his
shoulder to make sure his car wasn't defiled.
The road felt longer on the way back.
Jacob was quiet, thoughtful. He left his arm around me, and it was so warm that
the cold wind felt good.
I stared out the windshield, consumed with guilt.
It was so wrong to encourage Jacob. Pure selfishness. It didn't matter that I'd tried
to make my position clear. If he felt any hope at all that this could turn into
something other than friendship, then I hadn't been clear enough.
How could I explain so that he would understand? I was an empty shell. Like a
vacant house—condemned—for months I'd been utterly uninhabitable. Now I
was a little improved. The front room was in better repair. But that was all—just
the one small piece. He deserved better than that—better than a one-room, fallingdown
fixer-upper. No amount of investment on his part could put me back in
working order.
Yet I knew that I wouldn't send him away, regardless. I needed him too much,
and I was selfish. Maybe I could make my side more clear, so that he would
know to leave me. The thought made me shudder, and Jacob tightened his arm
around me.
I drove Mike home in his Suburban, while Jacob followed behind us to take me
home. Jacob was quiet all the way back to my house, and I wondered if he were
thinking the same things that I was. Maybe he was changing his mind.
"I would invite myself in, since we're early," he said as we pulled up next to my
truck. "But I think you might be right about the fever. I'm starting to feel a little…
strange."
"Oh no, not you, too! Do you want me to drive you home?"
"No." He shook his head, his eyebrows pulling together. "I don't feel sick yet.
Just… wrong. If I have to, I'll pull over."
"Will you call me as soon as you get in?" I asked anxiously.
"Sure, sure." He frowned, staring ahead into the darkness and biting his lip.
I opened my door to get out, but he grabbed my wrist lightly and held me there. I
noticed again how hot his skin felt on mine.
"What is it, Jake?" I asked.
"There's something I want to tell you, Bella… but I think it's going to sound kind
of corny."
I sighed. This would be more of the same from the theater. "Go ahead."
"It's just that, I know how you're unhappy a lot. And, maybe it doesn't help
anything, but I wanted you to know that I'm always here. I won't ever let you
down—I promise that you can always count on me. Wow, that does sound corny.
But you know that, right? That I would never, ever hurt you?"
"Yeah, Jake. I know that. And I already do count on you, probably more than you
know."
The smile broke across his face the way the sunrise set the clouds on fire, and I
wanted to cut my tongue out. I hadn't said one word that was a lie, but I should
have lied. The truth was wrong, it would hurt him. I would let him down.
A strange look crossed his face. "I really think I'd better go home now," he said.
I got out quickly.
"Call me!" I yelled as he pulled away.
I watched him go, and he seemed to be in control of the car, at least. I stared at
the empty street when he was gone, feeling a little sick myself, but not for any
physical reason.
How much I wished that Jacob Black had been born my brother, my flesh-and -
blood brother, so that I would have some legitimate claim on him that still left me
free of any blame now. Heaven knows I had never wanted to use Jacob, but I
couldn't help but interpret the guilt I felt now to mean that I had.
Even more, I had never meant to love him. One thing I truly knew—knew it in
the pit of my stomach, in the center of my bones, knew it from the crown of my
head to the soles of my feet, knew it deep in my empty chest—was how love
gave someone the power to break you.
I'd been broken beyond repair.
But I needed Jacob now, needed him like a drug. I'd used him as a crutch for too
long, and I was in deeper than I'd planned to go with anyone again. Now I
couldn't bear for him to be hurt, and I couldn't keep from hurting him, either. He
thought time and patience would change me, and, though I knew he was dead
wrong, I also knew that I would let him try.
He was my best friend. I would always love him, and it would never, ever be
enough.
I went inside to sit by the phone and bite my nails.
"Movie over already?" Charlie asked in surprise when I came in. He was on the
floor, just a foot from the TV. Must be an exciting game.
"Mike got sick," I explained. "Some kind of stomach flu."
"You okay?"
"I feel fine now," I said doubtfully. Clearly, I'd been exposed.
I leaned against the kitchen counter, my hand inches from the phone, and tried to
wait patiently. I thought of the strange look on Jacob's face before he drove away,
and my fingers started drumming against the counter. I should have insisted on
driving him home.
I watched the clock as the minutes ticked by Ten. Fifteen. Even when I was
driving, it took only fifteen minutes, and Jacob drove faster than I did. Eighteen
minutes. I picked up the phone and dialed.
It rang and rang. Maybe Billy was asleep. Maybe I'd dialed wrong. I tried again.
On the eighth ring, just as I was about to hang up, Billy answered.
"Hello?" he asked. His voice was wary, like he was expecting bad news.
"Billy, it's me, Bella—did Jake make it home yet? He left here about twenty
minutes ago."
"He's here," Billy said tonelessly.
"He was supposed to call me." I was a little irritated. "He was getting sick when
he left, and I was worried."
"He was… too sick to call. He's not feeling well right now." Billy sounded
distant. I realized he must want to be with Jacob.
"Let me know if you need any help," I offered. "I could come down." I thought of
Billy, stuck in his chair, and Jake fending for himself…
"No, no," Billy said quickly. "We're fine. Stay at your place."
The way he said it was almost rude.
"Okay," I agreed.
"Bye, Bella."
The line disconnected.
"Bye," I muttered.
Well, at least he'd made it home. Oddly, I didn't feel less worried. I trudged up
the stairs, fretting. Maybe I would go down before work tomorrow to check on
him. I could take soup—we had to have a can of Campbell's around here
somewhere.
I realized all such plans were canceled when I woke up early—my clock said four
thirty—and sprinted to the bathroom. Charlie found me there a half hour later,
lying on the floor, my cheek pressed against the cold edge of the bathtub.
He looked at me for a long moment.
"Stomach flu," he finally said.
"Yes," I moaned.
"You need something?" he asked.
"Call the Newtons for me, please," I instructed hoarsely. "Tell them I have what
Mike has, and that I can't make it in today. Tell them I'm sorry."
"Sure, no problem," Charlie assured me.
I spent the rest of the day on the bathroom floor, sleeping for a few hours with
my head on a crumpled up towel. Charlie claimed that he had to work, but I
suspected that he just wanted access to a bathroom. He left a glass of water on the
floor beside me to keep me hydrated.
It woke me up when he came back home. I could see that it was dark in my room
—after nightfall. He clumped up the stairs to check on me.
"Still alive?"
"Sort of," I said.
"Do you want anything?"
"No, thanks."
He hesitated, clearly out of his element. "Okay, then," he said, and then he went
back down to the kitchen.
I heard the phone ring a few minutes later. Charlie spoke to someone in a low
voice for a moment, and then hung up.
"Mike feels better," he called up to me.
Well, that was encouraging. He'd only gotten sick eight hours or so before me.
Eight more hours. The thought made my stomach turn, and I pulled myself up to
lean over the toilet.
I fell asleep on the towel again, but when I woke up I was in my bed and it was
light outside my window. I didn't remember moving; Charlie must have carried
me to my room—he'd also put the glass of water on my bedside table. I felt
parched. I chugged it down, though it tasted funny from sitting stagnant all night.
I got up slowly, trying not to trigger the nausea again. I was weak, and my mouth
tasted horrible, but my stomach felt fine. I looked at my clock.
My twenty-four hours were up.
I didn't push it, eating nothing but saltine crackers for breakfast. Charlie looked
relieved to see me recovered.
As soon as I was sure that I wasn't going to have to spend the day on the
bathroom floor again, I called Jacob.
Jacob was the one who answered, but when I heard his greeting I knew he wasn't
over it.
"Hello?" His voice was broken, cracking.
"Oh, Jake," I groaned sympathetically. "You sound horrible."
"I feel horrible," he whispered.
"I'm so sorry I made you go out with me. This sucks."
"I'm glad I went." His voice was still a whisper. "Don't blame yourself. This isn't
your fault."
"You'll get better soon," I promised. "I woke up this morning, and I was fine."
"You were sick?" he asked dully.
"Yes, I got it, too. But I'm fine now."
"That's good." His voice was dead.
"So you'll probably be better in a few hours," I encouraged.
I could barely hear his answer. "I don't think I have the same thing you did."
"Don't you have the stomach flu?" I asked, confused.
"No. This is something else."
"What's wrong with you?"
"Everything," he whispered. "Every part of me hurts."
The pain in his voice was nearly tangible.
"What can I do, Jake? What can I bring you?"
"Nothing. You can't come here." He was abrupt. It reminded me of Billy the other
night.
"I've already been exposed to whatever you have," I pointed out.
He ignored me. "I'll call you when I can. I'll let you know when you can come
down again."
"Jacob—"
"I've got to go," he said with sudden urgency.
"Call me when you feel better."
"Right," he agreed, and his voice had a strange, bitter edge.
He was silent for a moment. I was waiting for him to say goodbye, but he waited
too.
"I'll see you soon," I finally said. "Wait for me to call," he said again. "Okay…
Bye, Jacob."
"Bella," he whispered my name, and then hung up the phone.
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